Title: In the Bleak Midwinter
Summary: Doggett gives Scully exactly what she wants for Christmas.
Notes: Takes place in my happy land of denial. Very AU. Further author’s notes at the end.
They always stopped talking when he came into the room. It didn’t matter if they were laughing or weeping, they would both hush once John made himself known. One of these days, John often thought, he would stand outside the door and listen to their girl talk, but for now he knew he was the clumsy interloper, the intrusion of masculinity into companionable, feminine friendship.
It was no different this time: Monica’s soft murmur halted the moment he stepped into the office, and Dana, as if embarrassed, quickly lowered her head. However, it was clear to John that he hadn’t interrupted a friendly chat—both women looked upset, there were tears on Monica’s cheeks and she clung to Dana’s hand.
“Nothing,” Dana said, wiping her nose with a tissue.
“Tell him,” said Monica. She was stroking Dana’s shoulder as well as holding her hand, John noticed. “Tell him, Dana.”
“Tell me what?” He approached them, just glad they weren’t fighting. “What’s going on?”
“Tell him,” Monica urged again.
Dana looked at her a moment, took back her hand and threw away the tissue. She said calmly, “I have been uninvited from my family Christmas.”
It took a moment for him to process that. “What? Why?”
“My brother Bill called my mother yesterday and told her he didn’t want—” She paused, swallowing, and Monica started rubbing her back again. Dana said, “He said he didn’t want ‘that bastard’ near his children.”
“What—who was he talking about? Not William?”
John slid his hand into hers. Her hand clasped tightly around his fingers.
She went on, still very calm, “My mother is still flying out for the holiday, and she’s going to try and talk to him—but since she’s more upset with me than she is with him, I’m not counting on anything good coming from that.”
“Dana—I’m—I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry.”
“He blames Mulder,” Monica said. “And he’s making Dana—not to mention William—pay for Mulder’s death still.”
Dana sighed at her words and murmured dryly, “Thank you for the reminder.”
“Oh, Dana, honey, you know what I mean.”
Dana nodded, suddenly looking to John as fragile as a dried flower. “Not a very good first Christmas for William, is it?” she said in a defeated tone.
The words were out of John’s mouth before he could stop himself. “I could give you Christmas.”
Both women looked at him as if he’d started speaking in tongues. He went on rapidly, “I mean, I’m having a party Christmas Eve—I know some people who aren’t doing anything special, so we’re doing it together. Why don’t you come too? It’s better than spending Christmas alone.”
“I’m going,” Monica said. “I’m bringing the—the veggie platter.”
“I’d never find a sitter for Christmas Eve.”
“Bring William. We’ll just eat and play party games—it’ll be fun.”
Dana wiped her eyes with her fingers and said, “Thank you. That sounds wonderful. I’d love to come.” She kissed Doggett’s cheek and squeezed Monica’s hand, and left the office looking much happier than when John had come in.
Monica waited until the elevator doors had swished shut down the hall to say, “That was a good thing you did just now.”
John leaned against his desk and said, “I’m not sure what I did just now.”
She laughed. “You’re throwing a Christmas party for your friends. You need to start planning.”
“The last party I had involved barbeque and touch football. We can’t do that.” He scrubbed his hand over his face. What an absurd morning this was turning out to be.
“Trust me, John, it can only go up from here.” She added, “What do you want me to need help you with?”
“Everything. What should we eat? Who else should I ask? If it’s just the three of us, Dana will figure it out.”
“Well . . . We should eat something simple and traditional, like ham or a roast. Ask the Gunmen. I don’t think they have family close by. And if you wanted to ask Walter Skinner, I wouldn’t mind.”
John smiled at her attempt to be casual. “Anyone else, do you think?”
“I think that should be enough. It’s a small group and we’re all friends. I think it’ll be fun—and what’s more, it’ll be good for Dana.”
“Mon—weren’t you going home for Christmas?”
“It’s okay John, really,” Monica said, waving his worries away with a gesture. “Call me if you need any help with decorating or anything.”
“I should decorate?”
“Absolutely. Don’t go overboard, of course. Lights, a wreath, a tree, music . . .”
“Merry freakin’ Christmas,” John muttered, and picked up a legal pad to start making a list.
*** *** ***
Invitations were given and accepted before the day was over. Monica helped him write a list of purchases to make, so John had a few stops on the way home. This close to Christmas the pickings were slim, but still he found some good decorations and a decent tree. He had already hung lights on his house, but hadn’t planned to do more.
It was bitterly cold outside, with a bite in the air that warned of snow. John rolled up his sleeves, slid a Christmas CD into his stereo, lit a fire in the fireplace, and set about putting up the tree in front of his main window.
He had the tree upright and was untangling a string of lights when the phone rang. He sighed with frustration, put down the lights even though he knew they would just tangle themselves up again, and got up from the floor to answer the phone. “John Doggett.”
“Hey,” Monica said,” do you still want me to bring vegetables or should I bring something else?”
“Veggies are fine. A salad if you don’t want to do the veggies and dip thing.” He picked up the coil of lights and started untangling them again.
“No, I think I will, people like to munch on them. I’ll place an order at my market tonight. Did you find a tree?”
“I did. I’m decorating it now.”
“Should I come help?”
“I think it’s under control. Thanks, though.” He added, grinning since she couldn’t see him, “Skinner said yes, by the way and I bought some mistletoe at the Christmas tree place, so and I’ll be sure to place it strategically around the house for you.”
“John!” she cried, shocked. “I do not want to kiss Walter Skinner.”
“You lie . . .” He threw down the string of lights and ran his hand through his hair. Would people miss the lights if he didn’t get them strung on the tree? He had those wood red and green beads that were all the rage now, would they do instead? “You lie like a cheap toupee.”
“Hush, you, or I’ll tell Dana you’re doing the party just because she needed it.”
“Try me.” She dropped the teasing tone and said, “It really is a good thing you’re doing for her.”
“I hope so,” John mused. “She just . . . she looked so sad.”
“She’ll have us,” Monica said gently. “It won’t be perfect, I think, but it’ll be better than what it would be otherwise.”
“I hope so,” he said again.
“I’ll bring some flowers, too,” she said. “Poinsettias. Do you have any table decorations?”
“I have candlesticks and good china.”
“Flowers,” she said decisively. “All right. See you tomorrow.” She hung up the phone, and John wondered for a moment if he should call back and ask if she was planning to bring flowers or telling him to buy some.
But again the phone rang, and John clicked it on. “Did you change your mind?”
“Excuse me?” said Dana’s soft voice. “Is this John Doggett?”
“Yeah, it’s me, sorry, Dana. I thought you were Monica.” He picked up the lights to have something to do with his hands. “She tends to end her phone calls abruptly and then remember something and call back.”
“I know,” she said, her voice warming with affection. “Monica can call ten times a day and you’ll only talk for five minutes. Anyway, I called to ask you: Monica mentioned she was bringing vegetables, so what would you like me to bring?”
“Um . . .” He hadn’t thought about it for her—everyone else had offered to bring something and he’d agreed. “Sk
inner is bringing drinks, the Lone Gunmen are bringing dessert . . . We’re having roast beef and mashed potatoes.”
“It sounds delicious. I could bring appetizers or a side dish.”
“How about appetizers?” He flicked the string of lights, unknotted at last. “Nothing too complicated.”
“All right. John, I—” She stopped and John waited. “Thank you,” she said at last. “I really appreciate this. You’re always so . . . accepting.”
Always of you, he wanted to say, but he only said, “Sure, Dana.”
“And John, I—I . . . never mind. I’ll see you on the twenty-fourth,” she said. “Bye, John.”
“Bye,” he said and hung up the phone. He drew up his legs and wrapped his arms around his knees, and sat there for a moment, thinking.
Then he sighed and got to his feet, to finish decorating the tree.
*** *** ***
The twenty-fourth felt both lazy and impatient, like the day before a holiday. Monica and John both left the office early, Monica asking him repeatedly was he <em>sure</em> he didn’t need any help?
“Just show up at six,” he said. “Wear something festive.”
He felt festive himself, which surprised him. He hadn’t made a big deal of Christmas for years. Some years he went to his parents’ house or his sister’s, but mostly he spent Christmas alone, avoiding the photo albums and trying not to remember.
This was much better. Centering the day around Dana, focusing on her happiness—it made him whistle as he peeled potatoes, made the scratch of pine needles much less an irritation, made him put on a sweater that Monica had once remarked looked good on him.
Monica arrived first, bearing a potted poinsettia in one arm and a large platter of cut vegetables in the other. “Merry Christmas! I’m going to repot these into smaller bowls in your mudroom. Will you take the veggies?”
“Thanks,” John said, taking the platter and putting it into the refrigerator.
“It smells good in here! Did you buy holiday napkins?”
“They make holiday napkins?”
“Red and green ones,” she said as if he should have known that. “Well, it’s all right. We’ll use whatever you’ve got. You haven’t set the table yet?”
“Not yet, I’ve been cooking.”
“And turn up the music!” She shut herself into the mudroom to transfer the flowers to less obtrusive containers.
The Lone Gunmen arrived next, with Langly singing, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, gabba gabba hey, gabba hey hey hey,” and Byers inquiring solemnly, were there anyone among them with lactose intolerance? “We brought ice cream and pie,” he explained.
“Egg nog ice cream,” said Frohike, grinning. “Your tastebuds will thank you.”
“I believe it,” John said, adding the ice cream to the stash in the freezer. “Coats go . . . well, wherever. Are those toppings? Just put them on the counter.”
Langly parked himself in front of the stereo. Frohike said, “Where are your plates? Looks like you’re running behind.”
“Just a little. They’re in the cupboard at the end of the counter.” The doorbell rang again and John went to answer it. “I want to use the Spode china. Hi, Walter.”
“Hi, John,” Skinner said. “Merry Christmas.” He had a few bottles of cider, a stewing pot and collection of spices. “Mulled cider,” he explained. “Should I start it now?”
“Please,” John said.
“Good thing I brought tunes, your collection sucks,” Langly announced, changing the Nat King Cole CD for something much louder.
“Happy holidays to you too,” John said, when the doorbell rang yet again. He almost ran to answer it this time, and opened it to find a hassled-looking Dana wrestling with Tupperware containers and a fussy William. “Which should I take, food or baby?”
“Food, he’ll just cry harder if I give him away.” John took the Tupperware and Dana came into the house, rubbing William’s back. “As tempted as I am to give him away some days,” she said, a bitter edge to her voice even though John knew she was trying to joke. “Hi.”
“Hi. Why don’t you have a seat, relax a little. It’ll all be ready soon.”
“Thanks.” She started removing William from his snowsuit. Langly turned the stereo down and went to them to make faces at the baby.
“Hey, Scully. Let me take the little guy. He likes me.”
“If you can get him to calm down I’ll love you forever.”
“You already love me.” He picked up William and held him with surprising ease. The baby blinked at him and made a grab for his glasses, then started whimpering again. “C’mon, bud, give your mom a break.”
“Give him his wubbie, maybe that will calm him down.” She dug through the diaper bag and handed Langly a pacifier. In a few moments William’s unhappy noises were soothed, and Langly sat down on the floor again to explain to him the importance of punk in the development of Western civilization.
Meantime John had been unpacking Dana’s offering, which appeared to be sliced fresh fruit and cheese with crackers. “Good idea,” he said as she joined him in the kitchen.
“I hope so. I didn’t think something heavy or greasy would be good before a roast. Is that what smells so good?”
He watched her walk to the stove and lift the lid on the boiling potatoes. “I’m glad you came,” he said quietly.
“I’m glad you asked me,” she said. “What’s this in the big pot?”
“Skinner’s making mulled cider.”
“Mm, I haven’t had that for ages. Where is he?”
“Helping Monica with the flowers,” Byers said, coming into the kitchen. “Which glasses to you want us to use?” He paused a moment to hug Dana and kiss her cheek.
“Wine glasses for water, and I’ve got some white mugs for the cider when it’s ready.” He took a fork and poked the potatoes to see if they were soft enough to mash yet.
Byers found the glasses and left the kitchen again. Dana said, “Are you using evaporated milk or chicken broth for the potatoes?”
“Mm, rich.” She paused, leaning against the counter, and said, “John.”
“Hm.” He lifted the heavy pot to pour out the hot water, and Dana moved out of his way.
“I just—I wanted to ask you—”
She was interrupted when the door to the mudroom opened and Monica came out followed by Skinner, both bearing poinsettias in low bowls. “We have flowers—oh, hi, Dana!”
“Let me help you with those,” Dana said, taking one of the pots, and giving no more than a glance to Monica’s mussed hair and the faint trace of lipstick on Skinner’s mouth. The three of them left the kitchen.
John just shook his head at them and opened the can of evaporated milk.
*** *** ***
John felt like a patriarch when they all sat down at the table, and he paused a moment, looking at the faces of his friends. Monica happy, Walter tender, Byers patient, Langly expectant, Frohike grinning, and best of all, Dana, peaceful. The table was laden with food: fragrant beef and creamy potatoes, spicy gravy, dill dip for the vegetables and cider wafting the scent of cinnamon.
“Should we say grace?” He wasn’t a man for praying normally, but this occasion seemed to call for it.
“Absolutely,” Dana said, and Monica nodded in agreement.
“Would you like to?”
They all joined hands and bowed heads, except Dana’s one hand holding William on her lap. John tried not to notice that she made sure her free hand was clasped around his, though he held it tightly as she prayed in her grave voice: grateful for plenty, for warmth, for the joy of the season and most of all for friends.
“Amen,” Frohike murmured, his eyes a little moist.
“Amen,” Skinner said, his gaze on Monica.
“Amen,” said Langly, already scooping up a helping of potatoes.
“Amen,” said Dana, kissing the top of William’s head, and when she looked up her gaze met John’s. He smiled. She smiled back, then bent her head to kiss William again.
For the first few minutes they were quiet except for, “Pass the potatoes, please,” and “Is there butter for the rolls?” Then Monica launched into a story about Christmas in Mexico when she was a c
hild, which lead to Frohike telling about his first Christmas as a grunt in Vietnam, then Skinner had to tell one of his own followed by the first Christmas with his late wife, when they were clueless newlyweds; and everyone relaxed and laughed and ate and ate.
“Are you having a good time?” John murmured to Dana.
“Yes.” Her eyes shone and her knee bumped against his beneath the table. She didn’t apologize or move it away. He wondered what would happen if he slid his hand around her knee, if she would slap it away or let it rest.
Soon the forks were moving more slowly. People leaned back in their chairs, sipping water and complimenting the food, and Monica said, “I think we should all go for a walk before dessert. It’s good for the digestion.”
“Seconded,” said Byers, stifling a belch. “Wow. Good beef, Doggett.”
“Thanks,” John said, trying not to laugh.
“It’s awfully cold out,” Dana said, glancing outside.
“Just a short walk,” said Monica. “We can bundle up William nice and cozy—and then have more cider when we get back, and build up the fire.”
“All right, a short walk,” Dana agreed. “We should clean up a little first, though.”
Langly groaned. “Damn, I was hoping to get out of kitchen duty.”
“Get moving, you hippie,” Frohike said, picking up some empty plates as he stood. “Subjecting us to your CD collection does not constitute ‘helping.'”
“It’s a good way to say thanks to the host,” Skinner said mildly, prompting Langly to mutter, “Yeah, okay, thanks, Dogbert,” as he collected dishes and took them into the kitchen.
Suddenly unnecessary, John folded his hands under his chin and listened to the splash of water and scrape of utensils against china. Dana rose too, holding William on her hip as she picked up an empty bowl, and John said quickly, “You don’t need to—”
“It was my idea,” she said.
“Then let me hold Will, at least.” He held out his hands for the baby.
“If he’ll let you,” but William went to him willingly, sucking his pacifier and playing with his ear. Dana said quietly, “I’m glad he likes you.”
“We’re good buds. I’m glad you came,” he added.
She smiled at him. “You said that already.”
“I’m still glad.”
Still she hesitated. “John, I—never mind.”
She shook her head and went into the kitchen, still smiling.
John puzzled over that for a moment, then asked William, “What’s on your mom’s mind, huh?” William did not know either, returning a look that was equally puzzled. John stood and followed her into the kitchen, where the chaos of after-dinner cleanup was beginning to resemble order. They had formed a rough assembly line: scrape, rinse, put in dishwasher. They’d even found his storage containers, to put the few leftovers into the refrigerator. He paused in the doorway, holding William so he could look around too.
Dana came over to them and kissed William. “We’re nearly done. That was fast.”
“Hey, hey,” Frohike said, “why didn’t you say there was mistletoe?”
“Mistletoe?” Dana said, looking upwards, and John decided that trying to tease Monica would inevitably backfire on him. “Oh,” she said, grinning with amusement. “It is mistletoe.”
“Oh, kiss him already,” Monica said, untying the dishtowel from around her waist.
“I should kiss both of them,” Dana murmured, and kissed William tenderly. “Merry Christmas, sweet William.” She stood up on her toes, holding John’s shoulder, and whispered, “Merry Christmas, John,” before kissing him.
It was sweeter than John had ever imagined it to be—her soft lips and gentle scent, the closeness of her skin and texture of her hair. If his arms hadn’t been full of William he would have cupped her face in his hands and kissed her until her knees were weak.
When it ended he could barely smile, still lost in the world of her kiss. She bit her lip and grinned back, and took William from his arms.
“Let’s get you ready for our walk,” she said, and squeezed past John to the front room.
*** *** ***
Monica begged to be allowed to carry William, so Dana handed him over, visibly trying not to hover. John held her back a bit, letting Monica and Skinner walk ahead, William resting his head on Monica’s shoulder.
Every house in John’s neighborhood was decorated with lights, from serene menorahs in windowsills to garish lawn wonderlands of snowmen, reindeer and elves. More families were out as well, some caroling, others just walking in the cold, crisp air.
Monica and Skinner walked at the head of their little group, Monica pointing out pretty lights to the baby. The Gunmen were next in a cluster, Byers in his own thoughts, Langly and Frohike needling each other and laughing. Last were John and Dana. He thought he would have to shorten his stride, but though they walked slowly it was comfortable, like they’d been walking together for years. Her fingers squeezed his hand sometimes.
“It’s a beautiful night,” Dana said. “Just cold enough to make going home sound inviting.”
“Very beautiful,” John said. She glanced at him and blushed a bit, smiling. He took courage from this and said, “Dana. You keep starting to ask me something. What’s on your mind?”
“Oh,” she said softly. “I’ve been thinking the last few days, ever since my mother called me, about family and Christmas . . . And about who I wanted to spend Christmas with. And what I want—really want.”
He waited for her to go on, and when she didn’t he prompted, “And?”
“And I’m so glad you asked me, because I knew I wanted to spend Christmas with you.”
Much to his embarrassment, all John could do was grin and say, “Huh.”
Dana said, “I want—I would like it—oh, hell. John, spend Christmas morning with us. With William and me.”
“Yes,” she said with a nervous laugh. “Yes.”
He touched her cheek with his gloved fingers, and she closed her eyes. “That would be really nice. I’d love to.”
Dana clasped his hand and stepped close to him, stood up on her toes and kissed him, just as sweetly and simply as she had beneath the mistletoe. It felt good to kiss her—it felt right, it felt as natural as breathing.
“Where’s the Dana Scully I’m used to?” he whispered as he kiss her cheek and nose. “Where’s the quiet, reserved Agent Scully?”
“John Doggett, meet Dana,” she said. She kissed his chin and his throat. “I’ve missed her.”
“Good to meet you,” he said, kissing her bright hair. “Good to meet you at last.”
The rest of their group rejoined them, and though Dana stepped away from him she still held onto his hand. “William,” she said, taking the baby from Monica, “you’re wearing a hat! Where did this come from?”
“One of the carolers gave it to him,” Monica said, flicking the tassel of the felt Santa Claus hat on the baby’s head. “They thought it would look cute. I don’t think he likes it, though.” The boy was tugging on it, frowning a bit at this new thing over his usual cap.
“Let’s take it off,” Dana said, removing it. John took it from her hand and placed it on her head, grinning at the sudden mischievous look in her elfish eyes.
“I think that’s better,” he said.
“I think I need more cider,” Skinner remarked, shepherding them back up the sidewalk to John’s house.
They had left the tree lit, and the lights cast a soft glow into the night, blinking like distant stars. Dana murmured to John, “Thank you for giving me a beautiful Christmas.”
“My pleasure. I wanted you to have a good holiday.”
“I am. I’m still upset at what Bill said, but we’ll get past this. He loves me even when he disapproves of me.”
“I approve of you,” John said quietly, making her smile.
“I knew there was a reason I liked you,” she said, and paused for another kiss. “Throwing a whole party just so I wouldn’t be sad . . .”
“This wasn’t just for you, this was for all of us.”
“But mostly for me.”
“Well . .. yes. Mostly.”
“Thank you,” she said. W
illiam tugged on her hair and she kissed him too. “Don’t feel neglected, sweet William,” she said, and John took this moment to put his arms around them both and hold them close. My family, he thought to himself, though he knew it was too soon yet to say the word to her out loud. But the feeling was there, between and around them, the feeling of love by choice and commitment.
The others had gone into the house ahead of them. “Thanks for Christmas! Thank you for the winter friendliness that’s snowing down—” blared from the house before someone turned the stereo down again. They walked up the front steps, still lingering outside to enjoy each other for just a few moments longer. John said, “Should I bring anything for tomorrow?”
“Just whatever you have to unwrap and a toothbrush.”
“A toothbrush? What would I need—oh.”
Dana looked at him patiently and said, “The rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.”
“I—I—yeah. Okay. That’s . . .” He gazed at her tenderly. “It’s perfect.”
“Good. Then I get what I want for Christmas.”
She stepped close to him again and said, “You.”
When he kissed her this time, he held her face in his hands, and from the house music played: “Thanks for Christmas! Thank you for the love and happiness that’s snowing down, all around . . .” Their friends greeted them with exclamations when they went into the house, and there was laughter and memories and pie, and there was no darkness anywhere.
1) a Santa Claus hat
2) a blinking tree-topper star light
3) a string of red beads
4) a piece of mistletoe
5) a photo album
6) egg nog ice cream
Title from Christina Rossetti. “Deck the halls/gabba gabba hey” from “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.” “Thanks for Christmas” from XTC.
Written for diehard & the E-Muse Secret Santa fic challenge. Thanks to Steph and Kimberly for the elements; and to Steph and Mo for lastminutepanic!beta